Psychiatry is Junk Science, ----------- Feedback Box:

says Supreme Court

(Reprinted from November/B/1993 Prayer & Action Weekly News. Revised and posted on web 7/29/01)

Replacing Junk Science with Hard Evidence is the goal of a U.S. Supreme Court decision June 28, 1993. It said "science" can't be presented in court as "expert testimony" unless it is "falsifiable".

"Falsifiability" is defined in two ways:

(1) If research has shown a particular body of allegedly "scientific" knowledge is unverifiable, then it doesn't matter what its "prevailing" acceptance is in the scientific community: out it goes.

For example, if research shows that psychotherapy is unable to make anybody any better, or to understand anybody any better than anybody else, a psychotherapist could not be called as an "expert witness" in court.

A Psychiatrist, reviewing the case, concludes, "Although Freudian concepts may serve a purpose in psychotherapy, its lack of falsifiability means that psychiatric testimony based on Freudian psychoanalytic concepts should now be inadmissable as scientific evidence. It would hardly be possible for a judge -- who must follow this Supreme Court decision - - to rule otherwise when the Daubert decision specifically quotes Popper and holds that falsifiability is the determinant of what is scientific, and when that same judge is also confronted with Popper's assessment of Freudian dynamic thought as a premier example of failure to meet the criterion of falsification." (Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield, "A Paradigm Shift for Expert Witnesses", Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, Volume 5, Number 3, 156-167)

Psychiatric testimony based on Freudian psychoanalytic concepts should now be inadmissable as scientific evidence.

(2) If a factfinding approach is so arbitrary that the factfinder can manipulate which result will be found "false", then the approach is not "falsifiable" and may not be introduced in court as expert testimony.

In other words, if the method of determining the fitness, of a parent accused of abuse, is so arbitrary, so imprecise, that two psychiatrists are able to reach opposite conclusions, depending on which side is paying them, then that method of finding the facts is not scientific enough to be admissible in court.

Psychiatrists Underwager and Wakefield give a real life example of the kind of manipulation of analysis psychiatrists are capable of in court. When ruining a calm, in-control parent, they might say the evidence of "...abuse is supported when: The accused shows little or no emotion when being confronted or questioned about the abuse. [That "proves"] The accused is thus either in denial, is sociopathic or is a master manipulator and has little concern for society's mores and values."

But if the same psychiatrist is confronted with an eggregarious, passionate parent, he might ruin her by saying the evidence of "...abuse is supported when: The accused becomes emotional or tearful when confronted or questioned about the abuse. The accused is overwhelmed by guilt and disgust over his behavior...."

The two psyhiatrists conclude that in court testimony they have seen, "...almost any circumstance, behavior or observation can be rationalized as supporting the conclusion that sexual abuse occurred. ...there is no circumstance, behavior, or observation which could be used to conclude that abuse did not occur.

"As this sampling of typical testimony illustrates, almost any circumstance, behavior or observation can be rationalized as supporting the conclusion that sexual abuse occurred. What makes such testimony, and its underlying theory, not falsifiable is the fact that there is no circumstance, behavior, or observation which could be used to conclude that abuse did not occur. Consequently, there are no circumstances under which one could endeavor to prove the underlying theory false." (Ibid, page 161.)

Next: "The Junk Science Case"; then, "The Junk Science Case analyzed by Psychologists"; then, "Psychotherapists Affirm Failure of Psychotherapy"

The Junk Science case

William Daubert, et ux., etc., et al., Petitioners v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., No. 92-102, 61 LW 4805.

Remember that name.

This case has the power to dethrone that which Freud called "science" but Jung classified as "religion": Freudian psychotherapy. (Most psychology is Freudian. Most of the rest fails, just as miserably, the Supreme Court's new criteria.)

This case made K. Popper's definition of junk science the basis for excluding "expert witnesses" whose "expertise" is entirely subjective; and it just so happens that K. Popper holds up Freudian psychotherapy as the premier example of junk science.

Popper's word for junk science was science that is not "falsifiable".

The case itself never mentions any form of psychology. It is about two children with birth defects, for which the parents tried to sue the manufacturer of a drug they took, Bendectin.

The drug company, Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc, had an expert witness who reviewed extensive published scientific literature about the drug to show that the prevailing view in the scientific community is that the drug is harmless.

Since the previous standard for expert testimony was whether it was "generally accepted" in the "relevant scientific community", the lower courts ruled against the parents.

The parents, for their part, had EIGHT expert witnesses, who based their conclusion that Bendectin can cause birth defects on animal studies, chemical structure analysis, and unpublished "reanalysis" of published human statistical studies.

But the lower courts had not allowed their evidence to be admitted, because it was not published, nor "generally accepted" by fellow scientists. One court had rejected it as "unpublished, not subjected to the normal peer review process and generated solely for use in litigation."

The U.S. Supreme Court "vacated" or nullified the lower court decisions, and ordered the lower courts to try the case all over again, and this time to let those 8 experts testify.

In so doing the Court ended the "generally accepted" standard and replaced it with "falsifiability".

The court ruled that "Many considerations will bear on the inquiry [whether the "science" in question is valid], including whether the theory or technique in question can be (and has been) tested, whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication, its known or potential error rate, and the existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation, and whether it has attracted widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community."

There is only a single paragraph in the case that establishes "falsifiability" as a standard:


"Ordinarily, a key question to be answered in determining whether a theory or technique is scientific knowledge that will assist the trier of fact will be whether it can be (and has been) tested.

"Scientific methodology today is based on generating hypotheses and testing them to see if they can be falsified; indeed, this methodology is what distinguishes science from other fields of human inquiry." Green, at 645. See also C. Hempel, Philosophy of Natural Science 49 (1966)

("[T]he statements constituting a scientific explanation must be capable of empirical test"); K. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge 37 (5th ed. 1989) ("[T]he criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability")"


By now you may be wondering why, if this is an 8-year-old case, you haven't heard anything about it, and you certainly haven't heard of any reduction in the god-like respect given the wildest flights of fancy by psychiatrists in courtrooms. In answering this question for you, we can kill two birds with one stone. We can not only answer what has become of this case, but we can give you an I.Q. test, to see if you have the intelligence required to serve as a Supreme Court Judge.

First let's go over this term "falsifiability" once more. The method which we call The Scientific Method consists of developing theories, and then testing them to see if they can be proved false. (This method was developed by a Christian, by the way.) Can you follow this concept?

For example, a scientist might theorize that gravity can bend light. So then a test is developed: during an eclipse of the sun, telescopes are pointed to the edge of the eclipse to see if stars are visible which are actually behind the sun. If they are, that proves the gravity of the sun has actually bent the light coming from those stars to the extent that it bends around the sun and reaches our telescopes. If they aren't, that proves the theory is false; gravity cannot bend light. (By the way, this experiment proved that gravity bends light.)

By contrast, an astrologer might tell you, "Bad luck will happen tomorrow." That is so general, that it cannot be proved false.

(That is the point, of course, for astrologers; they are very careful to make their promises vague enough that no matter what happens, no one will be able to quite prove them liars.)

There is no specific definition of "bad luck" upon which all may agree, and every day contains such a mixture of challenges and opportunities that it is impossible to prove that "bad luck" happens, or doesn't happen, on any day. The theory is, thus, not "falsifiable"; and for that reason, no statement made by such a fact-finding method can be called "scientific."

In the same way, a psychiatrist in a child abuse hearing, if indeed he has no science to support his findings, must be very careful to make his analysis general enough that no matter what evidence turns up about the character of the parents he has analyzed, no one will be able to prove he doesn't know what he is talking about. He therefore presents his "analysis" in a way that it is not "falsifiable". That is, it is not based on any facts which the defense might be able to challenge. It makes no predictions which the defense might be able to test. It is based purely on godlike superhuman mind-reading talent, and who can challenge godlike superhuman mind-reading talent? It is given in a way that cannot be proved false. It is not "falsifiable".

Are you following this? Do you understand why a theory has to be "falsifiable" in order to be scientific? Do you understand that means a theory, for example a psychiatrist's evaluation of a parent as "unfit", has to be specific enough, or based on specific enough alleged facts, that the defense can either see those facts and see they support the evaluation, or question whether those facts do not? Can you comprehend this meaning of "falsifiable"?

If you can, than you are more than qualified to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. Because two Supreme Court Justices, after studying far more explanation than I have just given you, wrote in their dissent to the Daubert case, "I defer to no one in my confidence in federal judges; but I am at a loss to know what is meant when it is said that the scientific status of a theory depends on its 'falsifiability,' and I suspect some of them will be, too."

Indeed, "Judges will neither readily understand this principle nor consistently apply it without training and education [which doesn't mean] a few hours at a conference seminar... [but] a major educational and training effort for all the players involved--scientists, attorneys, and judges." (Ibid, p. 158)


The Junk Science case analyzed by psychologists

"Falsifiability" defined

The Supreme Court gave a rough context definition of "falsifiability" by listing it with synonyms: "falsifiability, or refutability, or testability".

Still, the word deserves more precise definition.

Such an attempt is made by Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield in their article, "A Paradigm Shift for Expert Witnesses", reprinted in our Documentation Section.

The article foresees a role for testimony of scientists about whether another scientist's testimony is supported by sufficient "credible scientific data". (p. 158)

To be "falsifiable", "the theory or concept in question must be capable of being [proved false] -- that is, be precise and specific enough [that it is possible for evidence] to count against it."

The second sense of "falsifiable" "includes a persuasive practical demonstration using scientific procedures to produce a proof" whether or not the theory, or evidence, or fact-finding method, etc, is false. (page 158)

The article gives sex abuse charges as especially vulnerable to the tests of falsification. "In case after case, this testimony presents, as science, conjecture and speculation ...[every situation] "proves", "supports", or is "consistent with" abuse". Such reasoning is not "falsifiable". (p. 160. 17 examples are given from actual court cases of how abuse bureaucrats rationalize the whole range of possible scenarios to make ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS "prove" abuse.

ERROR RATE. Even if a judge allows junk testimony, the Supreme Court has now made error rates of a theory, process, etc. relevant for the jury to examine; and "every scientist who has analyzed the error rate of the decision making process [of those dealing with child abuse] has concluded that the error is always in the direction of an unacceptable [ratio of parents falsely accused] false positives [to parents accurately accused, or true positives]. The lowest ratio is 3 false positives to every true positive while the highest is an astonishing 2000 to 1." (P. 164)

"Positive" is the medical term meaning you are sick. You "tested positive", meaning the cancer test proves you have it. In the preceding paragraph a "false positive" means a parent who was falsely found to be abusive. Thus this paragraph says for every actual abusive parent, scientific studies have proved that at least 3 other nonabusive parents are falsely "proved" to be abusive, and in some cases as many as 200 innocent parents are falsely "proved" abusive (and presumably lose their children) for every actually abusive parent!



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